Sunday, February 21, 2010

Baruch Dayan Emes.

The great talmid chacham, dayan and poseik HaRav HaGaon Rav Issur Wolfson zt"l was niftar this past Friday night. I generally try to avoid writing personal topics on my blog, but in this case I feel I must make in exception. It is a tragedy to his family (his 2 youngest sons are not even Bar Mitzvah), to our community of Passaic and to Klal Yisroel. We lost a giant today, and I feel it is only proper to mention a little about him. It is not an exaggeration to say that he literally had kol hatorah kulo at his fingertips. It wasn't just Chumash, Rashi, Ramban and Ohr HaChaim. It was Shas, Rishinim, Achronim , Shulchan Aruch and Psokim. It was Yerushalmi, Medrash and Zohar. Mussar Seforim, machshava seforim, and everything in between, both nigleh and nistar. I know after people die, the maspidim like to exaggerate. I can guarantee you that when I say he knew kol hatorah, both nigleh and nistar that it is not an exaggeration. A friend of mine used to learn with him once a week, and he told me that a number of times they would come across a medrash and Rav Issur zt"l would say, I never heard of that medrash. He didn't mean that the medrash exists just he hadn't learned it yet. What he meant was that we don't have that Medrash- it is not found anywhere in our editions at all. As more than one of the maspidim said at the levaya, he was a walking sefer torah. Someone who lived and breathed Torah. When he would walk in the street you could tell his mind wasn't in this world, but rather he was absorbed in whatever sugyah he was learning.

I was zocheh to have a personal kesher with Rav Issur zt"l and I just want to share a few points so that others might appreciate what we lost.

My connection to Rav Issur zt"l started about 8 years ago, shortly after I had moved to Passaic. He started giving chumash shiurim, and I was zocheh to be one of those that attended the shiurim. He gave these shiurim for 3 years and for the last 1.5 years I was the only one going. He would come into the shul , I would take out my notebook and tape recorder and he would say the shiur. I asked him a few times if he wanted to stop giving the shiurim, and he told me that as long as one person comes it is k'dai to continue. Although he only spoke for 30-35 minutes at a time, he was able to pack so much into each shiur, that to properly explain each shiur could take a couple of hours. He would weave together gemaras and medrashim along with a zohar or a GRA and sometimes even a Ramban to come up with unique and creative insights into the parshah. On more than one occasion he even made diyukim in some of the piyutim that we say in davening. Many of us don't even say the piyutim and even if we say them, we have no idea what they mean. Rav Issur zt"l not only knew them and understood them but he was even able to darshen them!

Besides his gaoness in Torah, he was a gaon in anivus. I believe it was Rav Meir Stern the Rosh Yeshiva of Passaic, who said over that it wasn't pshat that he was a gaon in Torah and also an anav. But rather his anivus was part and parcel of his gadlus. I would venture to say that 80% of Passaic either never heard of him or did not fully appreciate who he was. On the one hand this is a crying shame. On the other hand this is a perfect reflection of who he was-a gaon in anava who had not the slightest interest in being famous. I personally experienced this many times when I would ask him a shailah. I still remember I was once walking with him in the street and I asked him a shailah. He told me that he once answered a shailah in the street and he realized afterward that he made a mistake. From then on he decided not to answer a question in the street. I can guarantee you that he knew the answer. But his anivus would not let him answer me right away. Most of the time I asked him a shailah he would tell me to bring him a shulchan aruch or a mishna berura. Without missing a beat he would open to the page and tell me the answer. He didn't need the sefer to answer the question. He needed the sefer to protect his anivus. His son in law mentioned that everyone knew you could ask him where to find any gemara in Shas. However, when he would answer you he would always tell you it could be found 2-3 blatt away from the right daf. He didn't want to come across as a ba'al gava'ah.

I once saw an interesting idea from Rav Yaakov Hillel. He writes that most people think a tzaddik nistar is someone who looks pashut and simple but is really a tzaddik. This is wrong. Rav Hillel writes that a tzaddik nistar is someone like Rav Shach zt"l. How could this be? We all know what a great gaon Rav Shach was. The answer is that a tzaddik nistar is someone who even though you think you know his gadlus, there is ten times more you don't know about. As much as you think you know him, you really don't. In my mind, Rav Issur was a tzaddik nistar. For all that we knew about him, there was so much more that he kept hidden and private.

We lost so much with his petirah. In my mind it is like a spiritual 9/11. Who knows how much beracha and shemirah he was providing to Passaic and Klal Yisroel. We have now lost it. Rav Meir Stern summed it up so succinctly when he said that it is incumbent on all of us to make up for the loss of his Torah. He was such a giant that it seems almost impossible . HKBH should grant a nechama to his family, to his community and to Klal Yisroel.


Litvak said...

Thank you for the beautiful hesped/tribute. I didn't know the niftar and don't live in Passiac by the way, just was surfing the net and it caught my attention.

One comment - re the vort from R. Yaakov Hillel shlit"a re tzaddik nistar - did he mean that the main/only meaning of 'tzaddik nistar' was like Rav Schach, and unlike the common perception of it, or that in addition to the common perception, which might be the main meaning, there is also another type, as per the Rav Schach zt"l illustration? I don't see why the two types need be mutually exclusive.

Zei gezund - besoros tovos - keep up the good work.

Chaim Markowitz said...

thank you for your compliment. It means a lot to me that people appreciate what I wrote.

Regarding Rav Yaakov Hillel's vort, ain hachi nami. I think he would be modeh that there are 2 types of tzaddik nistar. However, I don't know if it is accurate to call it 2 types. The yesod in both people is the same-they don't reveal their entire gadlus. My understanding of Rav Hillel's point is that when it coems to our gedolim we don't appreciate that they are also nistarim.

Also, he was coming l'afukei those people who act in a way that is k'neged the Torah and people say about them that they are nistarim and have secret motives.

Litvak said...

P.S. I was looking at your post prior to this one and was thinking of possibly commenting on it, appreciating the importance, relevance, and high quality of it. Perhaps I will do so in future after contemplating the matter further, however, I would like to be the first comment there, so perhaps you could arrange that. ;-)

bandit said...

Thank you for your tribute. It seems to be indeed impossible to plumb the depths of R' Isser. Everyone who knew him knew something else about him. However, one thing I noticed over the years. If you had a personal opinion about something before asking him, you were certain not to understand his answer. The only way to find out what he held of something was to approach him with a completely open head.
Zechuso yogen aleinu.